The Yellow Crayon by E. Phillips Oppenheim
The two women were alone in the morning-room of Lady Carey's house in Pont Street. Lucille was walking restlessly up and down twisting her handkerchief between her fingers. Lady Carey was watching her, more composed, to all outward appearance, but with closely compressed lips, and boding gleam in her eyes.
"I think," Lady Carey said, "that you had better see him."
Lucille turned almost fiercely upon her.
"Well, for one thing he will not understand your refusal. He may be suspicious."
"What does it matter? I have finished with him. I have done all that I pledged myself to. What more can be expected of me? I do not wish to see him again."
Lady Carey laughed.
"At least," she said, "I think that the poor man has a right to receive his conge from you. You cannot break with him without a word of explanation. Perhaps - you may not find it so easy as it seems."
Lucille swept around.
"What do you mean?"
Lady Carey shrugged her shoulders.
"You are in a curious mood, my dear Lucille. What I mean is obvious enough. Brott is a strong man and a determined man. I do not think that he will enjoy being made a fool of."
Lucille was indifferent.
"At any rate," she said, "I shall not see him. I have quite made up my mind about that."
"And why not, Countess?" a deep voice asked from the threshold. "What have I done? May I not at least know my fault?"
Lady Carey rose and moved towards the door.
"You shall have it out between yourselves," she declared, looking up, and nodding at Brott as she passed. "Don't fight!"
The cry was imperative, but Lady Carey had gone. Mr. Brott closed the door behind him and confronted Lucille. A brilliant spot of colour flared in her pale cheeks.
"But this is a trap!" she exclaimed. "Who sent for you? Why did you come?"
He looked at her in surprise.
His eyes were full of passionate remonstrance. She looked nervously from him towards the door. He intercepted her glance.
"What have I done?" he asked fiercely. "What have I failed to do? Why do you look as though I had forced myself upon you? Haven't I the right? Don't you wish to see me?"
In Brott's face and tone was all the passionate strenuousness of a great crisis. Lucille felt suddenly helpless before the directness of his gaze, his storm of questions. In all their former intercourse it had been she who by virtue of her sex and his blind love for her had kept the upper hand. And now the position was changed. All sorts of feeble explanations, of appeals to him, occurred to her dimly, only to be rejected by reason of their ridiculous inadequacy. She was silent-abjectly silent.
He came a little closer to her, and the strength of the man was manifest in his intense self-restraint. His words were measured, his tone quiet. Yet both somehow gave evidence of the smouldering fires beneath.
"Lucille," he said, "I find you hard to understand to-day. You have made me your slave, you came once more into my life at its most critical moment, and for your sake I have betrayed a great trust. My conscience, my faith, and although that counts for little, my political career, were in the balance against my love for you. You know which conquered. At your bidding I have made myself the jest of every man who buys the halfpenny paper and calls himself a politician. My friends heap abuse upon me, my enemies derision. I cannot hold my position in this new Cabinet. I had gone too far for compromise. I wonder if you quite understand what has happened?"
"Oh, I have heard too much," she cried. "Spare me the rest."
He continued as though he had not heard her.
"Men who have been my intimate associates for many years, and whose friendship was dear to me, cross the road to avoid: meeting me, day by day I am besieged with visitors and letters from the suffering people to whom my word had been pledged, imploring me for some explanation, for one word of denial. Life has become a hell for me, a pestilent, militant hell! Yet, Lucille, unless you break faith with me I make no complaint. I am content."
"I am very sorry," she said. "I do not think that you have properly understood me. I have never made you any promise."
For a moment he lost control of himself. She shrank back at the blaze of indignation, half scornful, half incredulous, which lit up his clear, grey eyes.
"It is a lie!" ' he answered. "Between you and me it can be no question of words. You were always very careful of your pledges, but there are limits even to your caution - as to my forbearance. A woman does not ask a man who is pleading to her for her love to give up everything else he cares for in life without hope of reward. It is monstrous! I never sought you under false pretenses. I never asked you for your friendship. I wanted you. I told you so plainly. You won't deny that you gave me hope - encouraged me? You can't even deny that I am within my rights if I claim now at this instant the reward for my apostasy."
Her hands were suddenly locked in his. She felt herself being drawn into his arms. With a desperate effort she avoided his embrace. He still held her left wrist, and his face was dark with passion.
"Let me go!" she pleaded.
"Not I!" he answered, with an odd, choked little laugh. "You belong to me. I have paid the price. I, too, am amongst the long list of those poor fools who have sold their gods and their honour for a woman's kiss. But I will not be left wholly destitute. You shall pay me for what I have lost."
"Oh, you are mad!" she answered. "How could you have deceived yourself so? Don't you know that my husband is in London?"
"The man who calls himself Mr. Sabin?" he answered roughly. "What has that to do with it? You are living apart. Saxe Leinitzer and the Duchess have both told me the history of your married life. Or is the whole thing a monstrous lie?" he cried, with a sudden dawning sense of the truth. "Nonsense! I won't believe it. Lucille! You're not afraid! I shall be good to you. You don't doubt that. Sabin will divorce you of course. You won't lose your friends. I - "
There was a sudden loud tapping at the door. Brott dropped her wrist and turned round with an exclamation of anger. To Lucille it was a Heaven-sent interposition. The Prince entered, pale, and with signs of hurry and disorder about his usually immaculate person.
"You are both here," he exclaimed. "Good! Lucille, I must speak with you urgently in five minutes. Brott, come this way with me."
Lucille sank into a chair with a little murmur of relief. The Prince led Brott into another room, and closed the door carefully behind him.
"Mr. Brott," he said, "can I speak to you as a friend of Lucille's?"
Brott, who distrusted the Prince, looked him steadily in the face. Saxe Leinitzer's agitation was too apparent to be wholly assumed. He had all the appearance of being a man desperately in earnest.
"I have always considered myself one," Brott answered. "I am beginning to doubt, however, whether the Countess holds me in the same estimation."
"You found her hysterical, unreasonable, overwrought!" the Prince exclaimed. "That is so, eh?"
The Prince drew a long breath.
"Brott," he said, "I am forced to confide in you. Lucille is in terrible danger. I am not sure that there is anybody who can effectually help her but you. Are you prepared to make a great sacrifice for her sake - to leave England at once, to take her to the uttermost part of the world?"
Brott's eyes were suddenly bright. The Prince quailed before the fierceness of his gaze.
"She would not go!" he exclaimed sharply.
"She will," the Prince answered. "She must! Not only that, but you will earn her eternal gratitude. Listen, I must tell you the predicament in which we find ourselves. It places Lucille's life in your hands."
The exclamation came like a pistol shot. The Prince held up his hand.
"Do not interrupt. Let me speak. Every moment is very valuable. You heard without doubt of the sudden death at the Carlton Hotel. It took place in Mr. Sabin's sitting-room. The victim was Mr. Sabin's servant. The inquest was this afternoon. The verdict was death from the effect of poison. The police are hot upon the case. There was no evidence as to the person by whom the poison was administered, but by a hideous combination of circumstances one person before many hours have passed will be under the surveillance of the police."
"And that person?" Brott asked.
The Prince looked round and lowered his voice, although the room was empty.
"Lucille," he whispered hoarsely.
Brott stepped backwards as though he were shot.
"What damned folly!" he exclaimed.
"It is possible that you may not think so directly," Saxe Leinitzer continued. "The day it happened Lucille bought this same poison, and it is a rare one, from a man who has absconded. An hour before this man was found dead, she called at the hotel, left no name, but went upstairs to Mr. Sabin's room, and was alone there for five minutes, The man died from a single grain of poison which had been introduced into Mr. Sabin's special liqueur glass, out of which he was accustomed to drink three or four times a day. All these are absolute facts, which at any moment may be discovered by the police. Added to that she is living apart from her husband, and is known to be on bad terms with him."
Brott as gripping the back of a chair. He was white to the lips.
"You don't think," he cried hoarsely. "You can't believe - "
"No" the Prince answered quickly, "I don't believe anything of the sort. I will tell you as man to than that I believe she wished Mr. Sabin dead. You yourself should know why. But no, I don't believe she went so far as that. It was an accident. But what we have to do is to save her. Will you help?"
"She must cross to the Continent to-night before the police get on the scent. Afterwards she must double back to Havre and take the Bordlaise for New York on Saturday. Once there I can guarantee her protection."
"She cannot go alone."
"You mean that I should go with her?"
"Yes! Get her right away, and I will employ special detectives and have the matter cleared up, if ever it can be. But if she remains here I fear that nothing can save her from the horror of an arrest, even if afterwards We are able to save her. You yourself risk much, Brott. The only question that remains is, will you do it?"
"At her bidding - yes!" Brott declared.
"Wait here," the Prince answered.